A victim’s account undermines the attempted-murder charge against defendant Jose Charles, who was at the forefront of a high-profile campaign against police misconduct in 2017.
Jose Charles, a slightly built 15-year-old, became a symbol of the movement for police accountability in Greensboro following a violent encounter with the Greensboro police at the 2016 Fun Fourth Festival. His mother, Tamara Figueroa, filed a complaint with the police department, which cleared itself of wrongdoing after an internal investigation. Her complaint was forwarded to the Police Community Review Board on appeal.
In early 2017, Figueroa and her son went public, calling for the release of the police video of the July 4, 2016 incident. A member of the review board, who was troubled by what she saw in the video, spoke publicly, and was removed from the board. The case attracted widespread media coverage, even a story in the Washington Post.
Community members escalated pressure on city council to release the video, and activists took over the dais during a city council meeting and then poured into the streets where eight people submitted themselves to arrest while blocking traffic in downtown Greensboro. Ultimately, the Guilford County District Attorney’s office dropped a charge of assault on a law enforcement officer against Charles, but the city manager, the mayor and three other city council members backed the police’s handling of the incident.
Figueroa told TCB in a March 2017 interview that her son was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, mood disorders and post-traumatic stress after the July 4, 2016 incident.
The news in early January that Charles, who is now 17, was charged with attempted murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury cast a pall over the movement of which he became the public face. Digital, print and broadcast stories by the News & Record and Fox 8 News drew clear connections between the recent charges and the previous accusations of police misconduct. But the legitimacy of the charges is called into questions by the victim’s account of the crime.
Charles is accused of shooting Donald Robert Stanfield, 36, at his home in Gibsonville. With 7,029 people, the town of Gibsonville straddles the Guilford and Alamance county lines. Stanfield lives on the Alamance County side of town.
The charging documents on file at the Alamance County Courthouse provide scant detail about Charles’ alleged offenses: The attempted murder warrant merely states that Charles attempted “to kill and murder Donald Stanfield” on Christmas Eve. The warrant for the other two combined charges alleges that Charles stole four ounces of marijuana and $3,000 from Stanfield, and accuses him of committing assault by “threatening to use” an “unknown small caliber handgun.”
In a Facebook message to Triad City Beat on Tuesday, Stanfield said Charles was in a nearby car at the time of the crime. “He’s not the gunman,” Stanfield said. “An accessory to the fact, but not the gunman. I even told the detective that. He set everything up.”
Gibsonville police Detective TN Monday, who brought the charges against Charles could not be reached for comment, but Chief Ron Parrish defended the department’s handling of the case.
“All of the charges against Mr. Charles are appropriate,” Parrish said. “We received clearance from the DA’s office to make the charges. The case is still under investigation, so it would be inappropriate for me to say anything else about it.”
Messages left for the Alamance County District Attorney’s office for this story on Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned.
Steve Friedland, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Elon Law School in Greensboro, said that contradicting information provided by a victim doesn’t necessarily invalidate the charge.
“It depends on what the entirety of the evidence may be,” he said. “I’m sure the prosecutor will weigh this as well in determining whether to go forward. It’s significant. They’re thinking ahead as to whether this evidence will lead to a conviction to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt.”
Friedland added that eyewitness testimony isn’t always correct.
“Eyewitnesses, according to many psychologists, are often inaccurate,” he said. “The fallibility of memory has been well documented. There’s something called ‘memory hardening’ where sometimes people claim they know more than they do. Our memories are not like video cameras; they’re like still shots, where we fill in the blanks.”
Stanfield said Charles was in a nearby car at the time of the Christmas Eve shooting and robbery. The Gibsonville police are still looking for four unidentified black males who were believed to be with Charles at the time. Stanfield indicated in a statement to TCB that the unidentified males shot him in his front yard. Stanfield said he believes Charles orchestrated the crime.
Under the legal theory of vicarious liability, a person can held responsible for a crime they didn’t directly commit, Friedland said. One kind of vicarious liability, conspiracy, requires an agreement between two or more individuals to commit a crime together. A second, accomplice liability, requires both a mental state and an act.
“They could be charged with the ultimate crime that they are assisting,” Friedland said. “If they’re helping out with a burglary, then they could be charged with burglary. If they’re helping out with a homicide, then they could be charged with a homicide.”
He added, “This kind of liability doesn’t extend to someone who happens to be on the scene, but is not intentionally helping…. The fact that someone is in a car, that alone is not enough. But if they’re in in a car and intentionally helping, i.e. a getaway driver, then they become an accomplice and perhaps a conspirator.”
Charles has been held in the Alamance County Jail on a $250,000 bond since Jan. 4.
“If he would only talk and tell the police, he knows who they were,” Stanfield told TCB. “He can help himself if he wants to.”
Charles and Figueroa declined to comment for this story on the advice of Charles’ court-appointed lawyer.
The Gibsonville police seized a $15 scale, two marijuana roaches valued at $2, flip-flops and a shirt during their investigation of the Christmas Eve shooting, according to the incident report.
The police have made one additional arrest in the case. Elizabeth Jade Busick, 16, is charged with conspiracy to sell marijuana and obstruction of justice, both felonies. Busick could not be reached for comment for this story.
The charging document alleges that Busick attempted to sell about four ounces of marijuana for $3,000. A separate warrant alleges that she “obstructed[ed] the investigation of the attempted murder of Donald Stanfield by stating that multiple photographs of the suspect (shown by investigators and who she previously described) was not the same person who she communicated with prior to the case.”
This story was updated at 11:53 a.m. on Jan. 18.